In the realm of modern high fantasy, intricate political manoeuvrings are as much a staple as epic quests, mythical creatures and powerful magic.
These elements interplay, shaping realms and characters, as well as reflecting and commenting upon our own societal issues.
A close examination of this genre’s grand stage reveals that politics plays a starring role.
A Game of Thrones
Firstly, a consideration of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series is essential.
Despite the dragons and magic, the heart of this series lies in its complex political tapestry.
The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros are rife with power struggles, alliances, betrayals and plots that wouldn’t look amiss in a historical epic.
From the starkly feudalistic North to the conniving southern court of King’s Landing, politics are central to both the plot and the development of characters such as Tyrion and Daenerys.
Martin’s exploration of power dynamics, legitimacy, and the cost of war offers a biting critique of real-world politics, veiled in the trappings of high fantasy.
The Way of Kings
Brandon Sanderson’s “Stormlight Archive” offers a different perspective.
Here, the politics are deeply entwined with the world’s unique magic system and the conflict with the mysterious Parshendi.
Each nation on Roshar has its unique political structure, reflecting their geographical conditions and history.
The Alethi, for instance, are a highly militaristic society governed by an elaborate system of ten Highprinces, with politics heavily influenced by the endless war on the Shattered Plains.
This series investigates themes such as responsibility, honour, and the consequences of power, in a distinctly political context.
The Ministry of Magic
J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, though often seen as light-hearted children’s literature, also delves into politics, albeit subtly.
The Ministry of Magic, Hogwarts’ administration, and even the Death Eaters reflect aspects of real-world politics and the consequences of various ideologies.
The series addresses the risks of political corruption, the importance of a free press, and the dangers of bigotry and xenophobia.
These issues, while rooted in a world of witches and wizards, are timely and relevant to readers in our muggle world.
Power in the Priesthood
Lastly, we mustn’t overlook the role politics play in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy.
The oppressive Magisterium, a theocratic regime, has clear political overtones.
Pullman engages with themes of authority, freedom, and the misuse of power, embodying these concepts in the struggle between the Magisterium and those who seek to uncover the truth about ‘Dust’.
The role of politics in modern high fantasy is both multifaceted and significant.
Not merely a background detail, politics shapes the world-building, the plot, and the very characters who hold our hearts. Moreover, these fantastical political systems allow authors to explore complex themes and to comment on real-world issues.
This reflective quality is perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of high fantasy.
Through the lens of a different world, we gain new insights into our own.
So, the politics of high fantasy continues to challenge, to captivate, and to resonate with readers across our very real and complex globe.